Back in action

Published 7:06 pm Monday, September 19, 2011

East Carolina quarterback Dominique Davis (4) throws a pass during the Pirates loss to South Carolina. On Saturday, ECU will play its Conference USA opener against UAB at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. (AP Photo)

GREENVILLE — While the NCAA landscape appears to be changing by the second, East Carolina kept its focus on itself during the bye week as it prepares for its Conference USA opener Saturday at home against UAB.
Anytime there is a conference shakeup, as was the case this weekend when Syracuse and Pitt bolted the Big East for the ACC, it’s easy for the Pirates and their fans to wonder what’s in store for the program. However, ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill said he and his team are proceeding with blinders on.
“I don’t worry about something I can’t control,” McNeill said. “I do worry about East Carolina, I love it here and I love what we do here and what we bring to the table here. … Right now, our fan support, out of non-BCS conference schools is No. 1 in average attendance in the country. We really have all the makings here and if Conference USA were to dissolve anybody picking East Carolina would be getting a blessing because we have the total package.”
East Carolina athletic director Terry Holland and chancellor Steve Ballard, who normally attend McNeill’s Monday morning press conferences, were not present yesterday because they were at a meeting.
Bringing the focus back to football, the Pirates were still trying recover from their tough 17-10 loss to then-No. 11 Virginia Tech. Against the Hokies, ECU’s Air Raid offense hit some turbulence and tallied a mere 112 yards of total offense as quarterback Dominique Davis was sacked five times.
“(Virginia Tech) did a good job, I think people need to give (defensive coordinator) Bud Foster credit,” McNeill said. “They were able to get pressure with four and cover with seven, it’s the same formula that East Carolina used to win back-to-back conference championships.”
There were points in the game that Davis and the offensive line looked confused by the Virginia Tech defense, but McNeill said that was not the case.
“I don’t think (Davis) was (confused), it’s just we have to execute better on our side of the ball and (the Hokies) did a good job of executing on their side of the ball,” McNeill said.
Another area of concern was the Pirates rushing attack. Against Tech, ECU ended the game with -15 rushing yards. After two games the school still has yet to reach the century mark on the ground as it has been out-rushed 461-70.
Heading into this season, the Pirates had to replace veteran backs Jonathan Williams and Giovani Ruffin, along with four out of five starters on the offensive line. On Monday, McNeill said the ground game is still a work in progress.
“We had two older backs last year in Giovani and Jonathan, we had an old offensive line that had Willie (Smith) and those guys up front. Those guys have won two conference championships,” McNeill said. “We (currently) have four guys who never started before and one guy in Grant (Harner) who has, so let’s just let those young guys develop. They have been tested by two really good defenses.”
JUCCO transfer running back Reggie Bullock leads ECU with 23 attempts for 77 yards, while sophomore Michael Dobson has seven carries for 26 yards.
On a positive note, the Pirates have drawn only three penalties in two games, which leads the nation.
When East Carolina (0-2) welcomes UAB (0-2, 0-1) to town it will be a matchup of two winless teams with coaching staffs that are very familiar with each other. When McNeill was graduate assistant coach at Clemson in the 1985-86 seasons he was tutored by former Memphis head coach and current UAB defensive coordinator Tommy West.
“He raised me from a lamb in 1985 at my first college job,” McNeill said.
The Pirates will battle the Blazers without the help of WR Justin Jones (knee), OL Drew Gentry (knee), OL Mack Helms (concussion), ILB Kyle Tudor (knee), OL/DS C.J. Struyk and DE John Lattimore, who are all listed as “out” for Saturday. OLB James Craig (leg) is listed as questionable.
Of those injured, the loss of the 6-8 WR Jones and LB Kyle Tudor are the toughest to swallow right now but McNeill said he would not rush his players back to action.
“They’re working hard and trying to get better every day,” McNeill said. “I go strictly by what (head trainer) Mike Hanley tells me. … I’m looking forward to getting those two guys back as soon as possible but I want them healthy. I love the kids … and I will not put them out there until they’re healthy and Mike releases them.”